~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Buy A Ducati or Buy Ducati?

What do you buy yourself for your birthday if you had 73 billion dollars laying around and like Italian motorcycles?  Would you buy a Ducati or just buy Ducati?

Talk has been pretty clear for weeks now the Audi car company (part of the Volkswagen empire) in Germany would buy Ducati just as they bought up Lamborghini back in the late 1990s.   Lamborghini has prospered greatly under Audi's guidance. Italian style and engineering guided with a bit of German discipline and planning pretty much saved Lamborghini from it's never ending fate as the interesting Italian bimbo passed from investment house to bank to investment house.

But why Ducati?  Why would a huge car company want to buy a tiny motorcycle company?  Because some of the top people at VWAG love Ducatis and ride them.  Chief of those people is Dr. Ferdinand Piech, grandson of Dr. Ferdinand Porsche.  Piech is currently Chairman of the Board of VWAG, in the past a the designer of the mighty Porsche 917 race car, was driving force behind Audi's legendary rally cars of the '80s and is avid Ducati rider. Piech is 75 and and slowing down is not in his game plan so why not buy Ducati? 

Below is an excerpt the latest from the German press. This is translated from German using Google Translate so it's a bit rough but you'll get the idea. Also, you'll get some idea of the kind of weight Dr. Piech swings at the top of Volkswagen AG, the parent company of Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda, Bentley, Lamborghini, SEAT, Bugatti, and soon, Ducati:

"A birthday bike brand and a factory
via reuters.com

Wolfsburg (DAPD). The billionaire and the VW [chairman] Ferdinand Piech is on Tuesday, 17 April, 75 years old. The nicest gifts he makes himself well: On Wednesday, the VW supervisory board decided under his leadership is likely to buy the motorcycle manufacturer Ducati, as well as the construction of an Audi plant in North America. Piech is a fan of the sport bikes from Italy. And Audi is on the luxury with the new plant strategy, which he had initiated 25 years ago as the then chairman of VW's subsidiary in Ingolstadt.

Piech arrived in Vienna in 1937 into a wealthy family to the world as the son of lawyer Anton Piech and  Louise Porsche. He is the grandson of the legendary Beetle designer and founder of the sports car manufacturer Porsche, Ferdinand Porsche."

The long and the short of it: Piech is a car and motorcycle guy 110%.  He lives big, thinks big, plans big, and then makes it happen.  In his career he has been unstoppable.  So why not celebrate a little on his 75th birthday and arrange for Audi  to buy his favorite motorcycle company?

I've been around Piech several times, met him once. Top level managers would strut and puff around we underlings, but themselves shrink to the fences when Piech walks on the scene.  He's never loud, boisterous, nor does he even look powerful; he does look like an alligator waiting, waiting, willing to eat whatever pleases him.  People hang on every word he says because he won't say it twice and there's a price to pay for missing what he means.  He can stop a meeting dead in it's tracks by simply saying "Entschuldigen Sie" ("excuse you").   

There is a subtext, I think, to the Audi buys Ducati story and I have no proof, it's just my opinion.  It's not just that Piech wants Ducati, has wanted it since the late '80s, it's that Piech is very much part of the Porsche family while BMW is quietly controlled by the Quandt family.  Both families have a sense of presence in the car industry, a sense of history and competition that extends beyond merely selling good cars and making a profit.   

At the tip top levels of mega-corporations sometimes it's about ego as much as profits, about crushing someone for the sheer, raw power of doing it to an adversary.  The Porsche/Piech family could be seen as adversaries of the Quandt family who controls BMW.

In ye olden times the great and powerful families of Europe would compete by building ever more lavish homes or starting the occasional war.  Such as I understand about Piech's ways, it wouldn't surprise me if he has decided to use Ducati to trample on BMW's motorcycle racing efforts just to prove he can, just to make a statement.

Ducati will be required to earn a profit along the way too, the Germans are not fools.  Business is business.  But when you can make money, make sport, and watch the leader of another company grind his teeth, that last is where the real fun is.

My actual hope is that with some good German fiscal discipline Ducati will stabilize and thrive instead of being passed around amongst rich bankers like an investment tart.  Maybe even there will be enough money and new engineering insight to fix the bucking bronco that is Ducati's current MotoGP bike.


Unknown said...


you are very perceptive. Your opinion is probably right, never really thought about it until you mentioned about the rivalry, but everything you wrote makes sense.

Riding the Wet Coast
My Flickr // My YouTube

Trobairitz said...

I guess the old saying "if you can make money doing something you love" holds true. Or in this case make money owning something you love.

I read about this and now I wonder if we'll see any changes with Ducati.

Doug Klassen said...

Thanks for the comments, guys.

Trobairitz, things will change at Ducati although it may not be readily apparent to outsiders. Years ago when it was announced the Piech would visit our facility way out here in the Arizona desert, we were told "When Dr. Piech takes an interest, things will be changed. Maybe for the better, maybe for the worse, but things will change." Happily for us, he liked what he saw and good things happened.

Nigel Cox said...

Hi Doug - fascinating stuff! We just need the Agnelli family to buy Triumph and we could go racing! Seriously though, it is thrilling to see families at this level move stuff around like a game of chess.
Someone should make a film about one of these families - a bit like the Borgias meets the Godfather meets Top Gear!


Anonymous said...

Hey Doug!

Just in case you ever need an article translated from German to English again (or vice versa), why don't you simply ASK one of these loony Krauts?

For that matters, let me this Kraut and send me the article to be translated to
kay-uwe.klepzig AT jenoptik DOT com

And, since your spirit catched me, which is why I rode my Futura all over the winter, I hope to here many new stories of yours. It has been gettin' a bit thin in the last year! You know...write more ;-)


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